Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Over the past few days, live performances have been on my mind for a couple of reasons I’ll get to at the end of this miniseries — to wit: my life at concerts over the past 25 years, mostly but not entirely rock-based, including a smattering of stand-up comedy and a pair of classical orchestras in more recent times. That number of years might sound impressive if I were a 30-year-old roadie and if the results were novella-length. As a 45-year-old introvert, I’m surprised they add up to as much as they do.
On with the chronological countdown!
7/13/2005: They Might Be Giants, with Korn Mo
Once I’d gotten a taste for live music, this was the very next time that one of my all-time favorite bands happened by our neighborhood. The Music Mill was a short-lived venue, basically a small cubic warehouse with a concrete floor, no chairs in sight, and a couple of cash bars. I’ve never heard anyone mourn its loss.
The first half-hour (after the opening act, a guy calling himself Corn Mo who was…um, kinda okay, I guess) was entirely songs that the two Johns composed on the road about other venues they’ve played in the last year — the LA House of Blues, the Anaheim House of Blues, some place in Scotland, the place that replaced the first club they ever played in Pittsburgh, a Vancouver dive called Richard’s on Richards, and one or two more.
After the show I managed to re-brainstorm the entire 90-minute set list from memory, though not in actual performance order:
Don’t Let’s Start
She’s an Angel
Birdhouse in Your Soul
Istanbul (Not Constantinople)
XTC vs. Adam Ant
Boss of Me (the thirty-second TV version)
Clap Your Hands
Bed Bed Bed
Wicked Little Critta
Working Undercover for the Man
Alphabet of Nations
Memo to Human Resources
Damn Good Times
Stalk of Wheat
a cover of Focus’ “Hocus Pocus” (with Corn Mo on “vocals”, by which I mean “yodeling”)
…so five songs in all from the two kids’ albums, No! and Here Come the ABCs. Nothing from Lincoln, though, surprisingly. John Linnell took advantage of the adults-only setting to say the F-word exactly once. They were 100 times louder than I’d’ve expected — partly due to guitarist Dan Miller (especially in the intro to “XTC vs. Adam Ant”), but mostly due to the Music Mill’s enormous speaker system. I arrived early and grabbed a spot fifteen feet away from the stage (hurray for general admission!), and spent most of the next day waiting for the “beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep” to stop. It finally quit around noon, but I could still faintly hear it when I stuffed my fingers in my ears.
For a souvenir I bought a pre-autographed copy of The Spine, which I somehow had no idea existed because I’d lost touch with them for a few years. That’s never happened since.
11/12/2005: Bob Mould, with Peter Searcy
Hüsker Dü is another all-time favorite of mine. I was positively over the moon when Mould came to Indy on tour for Body of Song. My first visit to the Vogue, one of Indy’s longest-lived nightclubs, was largely foreign to me because clubbing was never part of my life. At all. No invites, no temptations, no reason to step foot inside. Until now. Dance floor by the main stage, seats in the back around the walls and the bar. Probably a typical club setup. I wouldn’t know.
First I spent the evening kicking around Indianapolis’ Broad Ripple area, our hoity-toity cultured area where all the alleged best bars and clubs are, where the city’s single folks all cluster and mingle and show off how well-to-do they appear. (As of 2005 it still felt that way, at least. Here in 2017, maybe not so much.) Alone and unaccompanied, I tried my best not to feel intimidated and out of place. I eased my alienation and discomfort by eating supper at the nearest McDonald’s, then later made myself look even more like a poser by grabbing a sugar-free vanilla decaf latté at Starbucks. If my choices in corporate-whore consumer indulgence didn’t isolate me enough from the crowd, then my Hawaiian shirt surely finished the job for me.
I got to the club at 6:00, wound up fifth in line, waited for the doors to open at 6:30. Everyone in line was over age thirty. Around 6:15 a car pulls alongside the curb. Some stocky college kid, no older than nineteen, probably a big Papa Roach fan or something, leaned out the passenger window and yelled at those of us in line, “HEY! WHAT KINDA MUSIC DO THESE GUYS PLAY?”
Guy behind me yelled back, “THE BEST!”
Dumb kid: “BUT WHAT DO THEY SOUND LIKE?”
Guy: “NOT LIKE MOLLY HATCHET!”
Dumb kid, apparently also deaf: “MOLLY HATCHET?”
Guy: [pause] “EXACTLY!”
The kid withdrew into the car, had a brief exchange with the driver. They pulled away and didn’t come back, presumably to go find someplace with a mosh pit instead.
Music-wise, I had a wondrous time. The opening act was a Louisville musician named Peter Searcy, who used to front a band called the Pink Squirrels. It was just him and his plugged-in acoustic guitar for a good 45 minutes. The lyrics felt a bit on the musically traditional side, but he was quite passionate and cheery.
After a fifteen-minute pause, out came Bob Mould Himself. No backup band, just Bob. He plugged in his own acoustic guitar, spent a minute tuning, waved hi to us, and kicked right in with a mix of Hüsker classics, catchy Sugar greats, and solo material:
Hear Me Calling
See a Little Light
Hardly Getting Over It
Sinners and Their Repentances
Then Bob unplugged and put down his acoustic guitar, picked up and plugged in his electric guitar, then floored us with:
The Act We Act
Your Favorite Thing
If I Can’t Change Your Mind
Makes No Sense at All
(I’d brought a pen and scribbled set list notes on the back of my ticket stub. I get the strangers looks from people when I do that.)
And then…then Bob and the opening act came down into the nightclub, set up a table, and proceeded to sell and autograph copies of their latest CDs to any and all comers.
For a mere fifteen bucks, I not only got to hear Bob Mould in concert…I got to hear Bob performing Hüsker Dü classics onstage for the first time in over a decade, I got to stand twenty feet away from Bob during the whole concert (which is why small clubs like the Vogue are such a blessing to those of us with eclectic musical tastes), and I got to meet Bob in person and get his autograph. I bought a copy of Searcy’s album and two autographed CDs from Bob, including one album I already owned. For some reason we each seemed a little tongue-tied and awkward in our short convo before I walked away on cloud nine. I assume he was exhausted. I was elated. A+++, 11/10 would listen enraptured again.
The night did have one lowlight.
As a newcomer to the Vogue, I decided that I’d grab a seat and listen in comfort. If someone else wanted to take the other chair at my table, cool.
A few minutes later, a heavyset blond guy introduced himself, sat and threw his jacket on the table. We chatted about random stuff ‘n’ things, mostly music. After a while I noticed he was mostly prompting me and faking his way through some of the music discussion. Shortly before Searcy took the stage, he set up a recording device beneath his jacket and prepared to commence bootlegging. I shrugged off his offer of a free copy of a recent Elvis Costello concert at Clowes Hall.
When Mould took the stage after Searcy’s set ended, I abandoned my chair and the bootlegger and went to go hang out alone with the other standers nearer the stage. I never looked back at the guy. And I’ve never tried sitting down at the Vogue since, no matter how dearly I’ve wished I could.
11/8/2007: TMBG, with Oppenheimer
TMBG returned, this time to the Vogue. Not just the Johns, but the Dans and Marty the drummer were in top form all night long once their energy drinks kicked in. The Johns may get all the fan love, but Dan Miller, Danny Weinkauf, and Marty Beller deserve those accolades just as much — no mere twee yes-men, they cranked up the volume and nearly blew the speakers as well as any other act I’ve heard. They even brought out a three-man horn section for several numbers. Delightful addition to the lineup, including the sassiest trombone I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing live.
In addition to the usual oldies and the usual unusual album cuts, the new stuff they played from The Else were all great tracks as well, though I wouldn’t have minded also hearing “Upside-Down Frown” or “Climbing the Walls”. I appreciated their declaration of the mission statement of this tour as “to undo twenty-five years of musical damage caused by the country band Alabama.”
The opening act was a Belfast duo calling themselves Oppenheimer, a couple of young’uns who looked barely old enough to set foot in an American nightclub. Wikipedia called them “indie-pop electronica”, which is mostly accurate — in their shows, one guy played guitar ‘n’ keyboards and manipulated tons of backing tracks, while the other guy sang most of the songs in a pretty falsetto and played a mean non-electronic drum kit up at stage front. Most songs were filled with sudden quiet/loud stop/starts with melded shoegazer melodies that drowned out the lyrics. One word of advice to the backing-track guy: STEP AWAY FROM THE VOCODER. NOW. Using it on one track is a novelty. Two is a bit repetitive. But vocoder on three tracks? That’s a crutch. Seriously, kick the habit before it’s too late and you have to leave the industry to go work at Best Buy.
The Giants were awesome, naturally. They were level-headed and professional despite the drunken idiot in the crowd who spent the first half-hour yelling, “PLAY ‘PUPPET HEAD!'” after every song. Eventually some nice young lady responded, “SHUT UP!” to a round of applause. Flansy’s response from onstage: “The person who yelled ‘Shut up’…would you come on tour with us?”
The set list in order:
Damn Good Times
Take out the Trash
She’s Actual Size
Working Undercover for the Man
Whistling in the Dark (with Flansy on the bass drum!)
Bee of the Bird of the Moth
Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head (I’d bet this was already planned despite the drunk)
Alphabet of Nations
Birdhouse in Your Soul
The Shadow Government
Museum of Idiots
New York City
Boss of Me (the 33-second Malcolm in the Middle version)
James K. Polk
Istanbul (Not Constantinople)
My ears finally stopped ringing two nights later.
3/6/2008: Henry Rollins
(Murat Theater, Egyptian Room)
Older folks might know him from his singing/shouting duties with his old acts Black Flag and the Rollins Band. For me The End of Silence was one of my two most cherished go-to albums for catharsis during one of the most depressive eras of my life. The musician/poet/actor has also frequently performed spoken-word engagements throughout the years — no singing, no stand-up comedy, just oral essays about whatever was on his mind during any given era. I have copies of his first several spoken-word albums, on which you could hear Rollins slowly growing confidence with his new performance format, to the point where he eventually stopped reading prepared essays at the mike.
Rollins was kind enough to stop in Indianapolis on his “Provoked” tour, unfortunately for me on a weeknight during tax season, typically when I’m coping with excessive overtime. I left work late that night but didn’t have time to go home first. I threw my lunch bag and my necktie in the car, then walked several blocks to the Murat on the other side of downtown. I was the lone iconoclast in an untucked light purple dress shirt and PayLess dress shoes among a crowd of hundreds of punks, post-punks, aging Goths, trendy urbanites, and others decked out in their blackest-of-black fineries. To their credit, no one hassled me for dressing like The Man. Like any other concert crowd, they simply treated me like I wasn’t there. In that sense they were all average.
Rollins was on a roll that night with a variety of thoughts and anecdotes. He spoke of the joys of acting as mischievous “Uncle Henry” to his friends’ kids. He complimented the Murat staff for being one of the most unbelievably friendly backstage teams he’s ever met. And he told the story of the time he decided on a whim to take a week’s vacation in scenic Pakistan, because a thing he does is go on trips to places no meek Westerners would normally put on their bucket lists, especially not for leisure. By astounding coincidence, soon after his arrival would come the grim news that Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated. The rest of his subsequent nonchalant walks around town proved fascinating in ways he hadn’t expected that made for riveting storytelling.
10/13/2009: They Might Be Giants, with Guggenheim Grotto
Once more, with feeling!
This time the tour was in support of Here Comes Science, their fourth children’s album. Opening act was an Irish folk-pop duo who excelled at what they do for those who like that acoustic thing that they did. As of 2017 I remember nothing about them. To be honest, until I dug through my own online archives, I’d forgotten that I’ve seen TMBG live three times rather than twice.
Third time was very much the charm, far from tiring me of them. Their songs are many and varied enough, and their shows aren’t simply clockwork rundowns of their most overplayed singles (and even those that appear in every show — cf. “Istanbul” — are legendary enough to bear repeating), so every concert is a new experience. As I’d secretly hoped, this year’s Indy stop included several great songs omitted from their last two shows — their great big hit “Ana Ng”, the obscure cover “New York City”, the clarinet-backed “Cowtown”, and “Where Your Eyes Don’t Go”, which John Linnell claimed they had to “relearn” because they hadn’t performed it in ages.
The set list included five tracks from Here Comes Science — “Meet the Elements”, “Science is Real” (according to John Flansburgh, the video for this yay-evolution track introduced them to the concept of “YouTube flaming”), “My Brother the Ape”, “What is a Shooting Star?”, and my favorite new song, “I Am a Paleontologist”, featuring what I’m pretty sure is bassist Danny Weinkauf’s first time on lead vocals, but he blended right in and seemed to get a kick out of warming up the audience for his big moment. (“Are you ready to RAWK? Are you ready to RAWK…with CHILDREN’S SONGS?”) “Paeontologist” would later show up in a 2011 TV commercial for Payless ShoeSource.
As usual, lead guitarist Dan Miller was stone-faced and loud and exhilarating all at once, rarely cracking a smile even when chanting the silly chorus to “The Mesopotamians”, but spent a few numbers trying out some keyboards for a change of pace. Meanwhile, Marty Beller had to dash like mad from one end of the stage to the other, switching between two different drum kits as needed, with one stop at center-stage for “Shoehorn with Teeth”, during which he played a set of hotel front-desk bells, one note per chorus. A horn specialist was also brought in for some sax, bass clarinet, and some weird bifurcated flexible woodwind contraption. I wish I knew its name and I wish I could remember his so I could give proper credit to that talented man, who even kept a sax solo in full swing while writhing on the floor like Marty McFly at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance.
The group also proudly and shamelessly celebrated their recent Grammy Award (sayeth Flansy: “It’s an honor just to win”), and provided an interlude in which the two Johns performed two (maybe three?) numbers with cheap sock puppets, leavened with visual-effects jokes at the expense of James Cameron’s Avatar and some awkwardness surrounding the arrangement of a backlit projector that kept marring the sock-puppet images with the shadows of Flansy’s arms, no matter how much he moved himself or the camera around (remarked he in exasperation, “the Mystery Science Theater people won’t go away!”). After the second and final encore, Flansy returned to the stage to hand out free — yes, FREE! — bumper stickers to the crowd. I got more than a little crushed by other bodies and had a hard time retreating while the crowd turned into what looked from a safe distance like a dogpile of young librarians. But we each got the privilege of touching a bumper sticker that Flansy personally handed to us.
Two encores later, the concert ended shortly after 10:30, I bought my souvenir (the DVD/CD Venue Songs set), left everyone else behind to their drinking and clubbing, and rejoined my mild-mannered normal world once again where no one in person shares my musical tastes. I wrote much of these paragraphs late that night — up too late decompressing, refusing to let the night end, nursing my sore clapping hands, waiting for the tinnitus to stop, anticipating how much damage my ankles probably took from all that pogo-ing, glad to be able to sit down and have all the free drinks I want, and wishing I’d had a single conversation with anyone anywhere all night long instead of staying a stranger amongst all those happy TMBG fans.
To be concluded!